Comparing Robotic Cameras to Traditional Video Cameras

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We thought it might be useful to compare Robotic Pro Video Cameras to pro video cameras run by hand since there is a lot of question as to the relative merits of each type of video camera for broadcast purposes. To make a fair comparison we chose to set a common standard for each camera type. In this case each camera must have HD-SDI outputs and have a 20x optical zoom. There are many HD video cameras that fit this bill in both styles, however the difference and operation use of each varies widely. The idea behind a robotic camera is that you no longer need an operator on a camera thereby reducing labor costs. This is not the case. In a typical three camera shoot you will setup a wide shot locked down and have two “floaters” that is cameras that are moved about between shots. Typically, to operate PTZ video cameras remotely you need an operator who is moving the cameras remotely. This operator may sit next to the show producer/director, but do not expect to be able to both switch and setup camera shots with the same person. It doesn’t work. Distance can be an issue, if your control cables for each robotic camera are RS232 you have a distance limitation of 50′ despite the fact that SDI cables can run hundreds of feet. I know that in many of our broadcasts we can have cameras hundreds of feet from the switcher. Secondly, the slew zoom and fine focus rate of PTZ cameras is fixed by the motors in the PTZ head and may not be fast enough for certain types of high action shoots. You can’t run and gun with robotics.  The motors in the PTZ heads make some noise but this is probably not an issue if you are pulling audio from somewhere else. PTZ cameras do offer some environmental features such as dust proof and waterproof enclosures, but this is nod to the PTZ camera’s security camera heritage and has no practical value for live switched broadcasts. Weight? Well the PTZs that we found that fit the above baseline range from 12-16 pounds, whereas the pro-video cameras we use weigh about 8 pounds. This may be an issue depending upon the type of tripod you use. Robotics does offer the advantage of avoiding what we call affectionately the “twinkle toes” problem where one of our operators will bounce around on a riser while bringing in a long throw shot causing noticeable vibrations in the video. You don;t have that problem with robotic cameras. Another major consideration is image control. You can fine tune much more with a pro-video camera and operator than you can with a PTZ camera. Finally,cost. A pro-video HD-SDI camera costs around $5,000 and up. The equivalent HD-SDI PTZ cameras that we looked at were in the $10,000 range. So in summary, if you are doing low motion HD video in close quarters with good light control then robotics will work, but our preference is live camera operators on each camera using in-ear IFBs to get real time direction from the event producer.


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